Funding for state archives building may have to wait until 2019

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The long-awaited construction of a new state archives building in Indianapolis is once again on hold—this time with no funding source in sight, to the frustration of advocates.

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s recent decision to terminate a $260 million deal to lease state-owned cell towers and other communications infrastructure came with a consequence: losing out on $25 million in revenue state officials hoped would pay for the new state archives building.

After years of inaction, the state’s archives project was authorized in 2015 when the Indiana General Assembly voted to approve spending $25 million for the project. However, it was to be funded from the cell-tower leases.

Last July, proponents of the project bemoaned that there would likely be no groundbreaking during the 2016 bicentennial year, even though it was supposed to be one of the celebration's signature projects. Now, they’ll likely have to wait much longer.

On Thursday a Democratic attempt to appropriate $27.5 million to pay for a the building failed at the Indiana General Assembly, where the next two-year state budget is currently being hashed out. Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, who authored the failed amendment, said the situation is getting dire.

The archives, currently housed in a warehouse on East 30th Street, contain 300 million pages of paper documents, 400 million microfilm images, and 1 million gigabytes of electronic records, including all the laws introduced in the Legislature since 1805, all the papers of each governor, the Indiana Constitution, judicial opinions, land records back to 1786, military record for Indiana soldiers, and birth, death and marriage records for Indiana residents.

“If we wait around another 20 years, our documents aren’t going to make it,” Pierce said. “I just want us to have a will for this project so that we will find a way."

House Speaker Brian Bosma said it was unlikely the funding would come through in this budget, saying the timing of the cell-tower deal’s termination “made it very difficult” to incorporate funding in current budget discussions.

“It would be great to have a separate state archives building that secures our critical documents,” Bosma said. “It will probably have to wait for another budget session.”

Holcomb spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson told IBJ the governor believes projects that were supposed to be funded with the money from the deal are "good, worthwhile projects, and finding ways to fund them is a consideration for the future.”

"He has not expressed any expectation that the funding for these projects come out of this year’s legislative session,” Wilson said.

Stephen Towne, president of Friends of the Indiana State Archives, described the “continuing saga” in a recent blog post.

"Some are convinced that a new State Archives buildings is long overdue,” Towne wrote. "Others fret over costs. Meanwhile, historians, archivists, genealogists, jurists, and other citizens are writing their legislators and governor to voice their frustration, tired of hearing that nothing is done to place the archives in a secure, safe, appropriate, and accessible facility that will serve citizens for years to come."

Advocates say the warehouse in which the archives currently are stored is unsuitable because it is not properly temperature controlled.

"Wild temperature and humidity fluctuations have damaged paper and microfilm,” Towne wrote. "Roof leaks, some of them caused by flying bullets, continue to soak records."

Last year IBJ reported that Indiana University was in negotiations with the state to build the archives on the IUPUI campus.

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